Giulietta Masina

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Giulietta Masina
Masina in Nights of Cabiria, 1957
Born Giulia Anna Masina
(1921-02-22)22 February 1921
San Giorgio di Piano, Italy
Died 23 March 1994(1994-03-23) (aged 73)
Rome, Italy
Occupation Actress
Years active 1942–1991
Spouse(s) Federico Fellini (1943–1993; his death)

Giulietta Masina (22 February 1921 – 23 March 1994) was an Italian film actress, best known for her performances of Gelsomina in La Strada (1954) and Cabiria in Nights of Cabiria (1957). Both films won Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and were described by their director Federico Fellini as having been "inspired" by Masina's "humanity."[1] Italian cinema historian Peter Bondanella described Masina's work as "masterful" and "unforgettable,"[2] and Charlie Chaplin, with whose work Masina's is often compared,[3][4][5] called her "the actress who moved him most."[6]


Masina was born Giulia Anna Masina in San Giorgio di Piano, near Bologna. She was the youngest of four children. Her father was a violinist and music teacher, and her mother a schoolteacher.

Masina spent most of her childhood and adolescence in Rome at the home of a widowed aunt. She attended an Ursuline Sisters school and took lessons in voice, piano, and dance. Later she graduated with a degree in Literature from Sapienza University of Rome.

Masina's husband was the Italian film director Federico Fellini, whom she married in 1943. After their marriage, Masina suffered a miscarriage after falling down a flight of stairs. She became pregnant again; Pierfederico (nicknamed Federichino) was born on 22 March 1945, but died from encephalitis a month later on 24 April.[7] Masina and Fellini did not have another child.

Masina died from lung cancer on 23 March 1994 at age 73, five months after her husband's death on 31 October 1993. For her funeral, she requested that trumpeter Mauro Maur play "La Strada" by Nino Rota,[8] a poignant leitmotif from the film. She and Fellini are buried together at Rimini cemetery in a tomb marked by a prow-shaped monument, the work of sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro.


Masina turned to acting at university, particularly after 1941. She participated in numerous plays that included singing and dancing as well as acting, all in the Ateneo Theater of her university. In 1942, she joined the Compagnia del Teatro Comico Musicale and played various roles on stage. She was cast by Fellini, who picked her after seeing her photographs, in the radio plays he was writing at the time.[citation needed]

By 1943, Masina was gaining notice as a radio actress working beside some popular figures of those years. Her first job was Terziglio, a radio serial written by Fellini. It was about a young married couple and Masina played 'Pallina', the wife. Masina and Fellini fell in love. On 30 October 1943, they wed. Despite distancing herself from live theater, Masina did return to the university stage for some time acting with Marcello Mastroianni. Her last stage appearance was in 1951.

Masina in La Strada, 1954

Working together with her husband, Masina made the transition to on-screen acting.[9] Half of her Italian films, the most successful ones, were either written or directed by her husband. Masina made her film debut in an uncredited role in Rossellini's Paisà (1946), credit for the script being given to Fellini. She received her first screen credit in Lattuada's Without Pity (1948), which was another adaptation by Fellini and played opposite John Kitzmiller.

In 1954, she starred with Anthony Quinn in Fellini's La Strada, playing the abused stooge of Quinn's travelling circus strongman. In 1957, she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the title role in Fellini's Nights of Cabiria. She played a prostitute who endures life's tragedies and disappointments with both innocence and resilience. In 1960, Masina's career was damaged by the critical and box office failure of The High Life. Subsequently, she became dedicated almost entirely to her personal life and marriage. Nonetheless, she again worked with Fellini in Juliet of the Spirits (1965), which earned both the New York Film Critics award (1965) and the Golden Globe award (1966) for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 1969, Masina did her first work in English in The Madwoman of Chaillot which starred Katharine Hepburn. After almost two decades, during which she worked sporadically only in television, Masina appeared in Fellini's Ginger and Fred (1986). She then rejected outside offers in order to attend to her husband's precarious health. Her last film was Jean-Louis Bertucelli's A Day to Remember (1991).[citation needed]

In the late 1960s, Masina hosted a popular radio show, Lettere aperte, in which she addressed correspondence from her listeners. The letters were eventually published in a book. From the 1970s on, she appeared on television. Two performances, in Eleonora (1973) and Camilla (1976), respectively, were particularly acclaimed.[citation needed]

Masina is often referred to favorably as Fellini's "muse," which is a term, however, that feminist scholars have argued can eclipse consideration of women's roles as thinkers and artists in their own right.[10] A recent critic has suggested that "perhaps the time has come for the field of Fellini studies to properly reassess [Masina's] creative role in the making of some of her husband's masterpieces."[11]



Year Title Role Notes
1946 Paisan Young woman (debut, uncredited)
1948 Without Pity Marcella
1951 Behind Closed Shutters Pippo
Variety Lights Melina Amour
Seven Hours of Trouble Figlia de Romolini
Position Wanted Paola
Cameriera bella presenza offresi... Ermelinda
1952 The Shameless Sex Nadina
The White Sheik Cabiria
Europa '51 Giulietta
1953 At the Edge of the City Gina Ilari
1954 La Strada Gelsomina
100 Years of Love The Neighbour at the Rear Window
Angels of Darkness Rosita
1955 Il bidone Iris
1957 Nights of Cabiria Maria Cabiria Ceccarelli
1958 Fortunella Nanda Diotallevi aka Fortunella
1959 Nella città l'inferno Lina
...and the Wild Wild Women Erdme
1960 The High Life Doris Putzke
1965 Juliet of the Spirits Giulietta Boldrini
1969 The Madwoman of Chaillot Gabrielle
1985 The Feather Fairy Perinbaba
1986 Ginger and Fred Amelia Bonetti "Ginger"
1991 A Day to Remember Bertille Final Film Role

Notes and references

  1. ^ Fellini, Federico (1978). "My Experiences as a Director". In Bondanella, Peter. Federico Fellini: Essays in Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 7. ISBN 01950222734 Check |isbn= value: length (help). 
  2. ^ Bondanella, Peter (2009). A History of Italian Cinema. New York: Continuum. pp. 148, 151. ISBN 9780826417855. 
  3. ^ New York Times review of Nights of Cabiria
  4. ^ reference at
  5. ^ reference at
  6. ^ Davis, Melton S. (January 2, 1966). "First the Pasta, Then the Play". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Information on miscarriage and death from encephalitis cited in Tullio Kezich, Fellini: His Life and Work (New York: Faber, 2006), 74.
  8. ^ gli amici ricordano Giulietta
  9. ^ Entry at website
  10. ^ Allen, Jeffner; Young, Iris Marion (1989). The Thinking Muse. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 1. ISBN 0253359805. 
  11. ^ Surliuga, Victoria (2016). "Co-Making Federico Fellini: Giulietta Masina's Achievement". Federico Fellini: Riprese, riletture, (re)visioni. Franco Cesati Editore. p. 131. ISBN 8876675523. 

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